The sycamore is a tall, majestic-looking tree with some of the largest leaves of any tree in North America. It is often found in wet areas, such as river banks and bottom land. The sycamore's characteristic whitish gray bark peels naturally. While still a popular tree, the excessive amount of leaf litter produced by sycamores has led to it being used less for landscape purposes in favor of other, less messy species.
The leaves of the sycamore tree are very large and can grow to 12 inches across, although sizes from 4 to 8 inches across are more common. The leaves have three to five slight lobes, which are toothed along the edges. The color is bright green during summer with a display of yellow foliage in the fall. The flowers are red, tiny and inconspicuous, appearing in the spring. The fruit is a hard, green, lumpy, round ball about 1 inch in diameter on the end of a 2- to 3-inch stem. The bark is mottled in appearance, mostly light gray with patches of cinnamon, darker gray and whitish bark.
The sycamore tree grows best in hardiness zones 4b through 9a and is fast growing, often putting on more that 2 feet of growth in a season. Young trees tend to grow up quickly, then spread out as they mature. Little corrective pruning is required for the tree to grow properly. The twigs zigzag and interweave to form a well-balanced look to the tree's canopy. Surface roots may grow to the point that they will lift sidewalks and drives and can even threaten foundations if planted too closely.
Sycamore trees grow to 90 feet tall and can spread nearly as wide, with a massive appearance. The shape of the tree is roughly pyramidal when young, with more of a spread as the plant matures. The tree usually grows with a primary central leader trunk that terminates with several large limbs that form the body of the tree. Sycamore usually have a fairly dense canopy.
Sycamore trees prefer full sun. They can tolerate a variety of soil conditions, including clay, loamy and sandy soils and will handle both acidic and alkaline conditions. They prefer wetter soils that are well-draining and can deal well with extended periods of flooding. The sycamore is also fairly drought tolerant and can handle salt well, making it a good choice for urban environments. Young trees transplant well and are generally propagated from cuttings.
Sycamore trees are often used to line streets and thoroughfares in urban areas. The tree is also used in residential settings and parks for shade and as a landscape plant. The wood is heavy and tough, but coarsely grained and difficult to work. It is sometimes used for butcher blocks, inexpensive furniture and crates.